AT Harvard, notwithstanding the great advantages which the large number of students and our system of study give in pursuing outside work, we undoubtedly fall below that standard of excellence in our athletic and social affairs that would naturally be expected of us. This failing, in both branches, is due in great measure to that system which throws upon a few prominent men the management of the many different interests. But more important than that even, in the case of some of the societies for the pursuit of knowledge, is the lack of a qualification for membership. In the Natural History Society and the Art Club, for example, there are many men who have no other qualification for membership than that they are pleasant fellows and can afford to pay the dues. Instead of admitting only men who are fitted for membership, either by great proficiency or enthusiasm in the subject, many are proposed for membership by their friends, and elected, simply that they may boast one more shingle or medal. These men have the effect of diluting the real strength of the society, and by their admission it is reduced to a society to which it is a social distinction to belong. The next step is to keep out a man who is not popular, but still really qualified. This is bad enough, as it is unjust to such a man; but as this practice increases, the members may, and sometimes do, become thinned down till all those belonging are members because they are popular. In all probability they are members of some society to which it is a great distinction to belong. Men of this sort will not care for the slight honor conferred by the latter compared to that of the former society; nor will they take any care to keep up the original standard of what was a society of learning, and so they destroy all its usefulness. No society perhaps has gone as far as this; but some are sufficiently well on the way to it to make it worth while for reform. If all such societies would take the measures here advocated, and adopt some stringent rule restricting the membership to those who are really very much interested in the pursuit of the special branch for which the society is formed, there would no doubt be much greater activity exhibited by its members, and the benefits derived from membership would be proportionally great. The falling off in revenue would perhaps be considerable; but little money is really necessary for such societies' support. Then a man would be really proud to hang a shingle in his room, as it would be the just recognition of his superior knowledge in some branch.
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